Room For All

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Room for All, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday October 15, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 22:1-14.

Banquet invitations

Is there anyone who wouldn’t like to get invited to a banquet? To get one of those invitations where you know that there’s going to be lots of food, and often the best food, there’s going to be all the big names, all the important people, and if you get an invite, then you might get to meet them as well. And, best of all, you know that you don’t have to do the dishes that night – even better!

Now, it may not be a banquet that we get invited to, but maybe it might be a dinner party? They’re just as good, and you know that you’re still not going to do the dishes. Or maybe you’re the type of person that loves entertaining and sends out the invites for the dinner parties. Do you realise that when you hold a dinner party, there are actually two points of invite? The first is the initial invite, to say “I’m holding a dinner party, on Saturday. Please come at 6pm.” But the food isn’t on the table at 6pm. You wait for all the guests to arrive, and they might sit in the lounge room, having a chat, maybe a drink. And then, when everyone’s there, and the food is on the table, the host comes out and says “Dinner is served. Please come to the table.” Continue reading “Room For All”

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Give Freely

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Give Freely, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday September 3, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 13:1-9.

I feel as it is Father’s day, this story is appropriate.

A weathy Texan was in the habit of giving his dad unique gifts on Father’s Day. One year, it was lessons on hang-gliding. The year before, it was the entire record collection of Slim Whitman. But this year, he felt like his had outdone himself. He purchase a rare kind of talking bird that could speak five languages and sing “The Yellow Rose of Texas” while standing on one foot. The talented bird cost ten thousand dollars, but he felt it was worth every penny. This would be a Father’s Day gift his dad would never forget.

A week after Father’s Day, he called his father. “Dad, how did you like the bird?” His father responded, “It was delicious!” Continue reading “Give Freely”

Honour God

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Honour God, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday August 27, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 6:1-4.

There are some things, as an officer, you learn to give up. Some, you’re aware of before you start. For example, I knew that I was giving up my freedom in choosing where to live. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here, but I am a long way from my family. But I knew that going in it would be unlikely that I ever get sent back to WA. At the very least – I don’t have the choice. But there are some things that you aren’t told going in, and one of them is my very minor OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Continue reading “Honour God”

Living in the Holy Land

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Moving outside the private faith, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday June 25, 2017. The Reading was Romans 6:1-13.

Living in a Foreign Land

I want you to imagine that you have moved to live in another country. Not there for a holiday, but moved there permanently. But you haven’t moved to one of the English-speaking countries – you’ve moved to France, or Germany, or China, Uzbekistan or Chile. And you don’t know the language. What are you going to do? Continue reading “Living in the Holy Land”

Moving outside the private faith

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Moving outside the private faith, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 21, 2017. The Reading was John 14:12-24.

The Joy of being an Introvert

A couple of years ago, I was able to go and do a study unit that involved spending a week at a Monastery over in Perth. And part of what that unit involved was taking part in the Monk’s daily routine, which included their six daily prayer sessions, and maintaining silence between their final prayers of the day at 8.15pm and their first prayers of the morning, at 5.15am.

Now I’m sure that some of you might wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such a life for even a week, let alone commit their whole lives to it. But I found myself bubbling with energy after just a couple of days. You might even say that I was overflowing with energy.

You see, I am an introvert, and that means I get energy from being by myself.

I love running… by myself.
I love reading… by myself.
I love having coffee… by myself.
I love going to the movies… by myself. Continue reading “Moving outside the private faith”

Listen to the Shepherd

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Listen to the Shepherd, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday May 7, 2017. The Reading was John 10:1-10.

Over the Top Miracles

It can be said of the Jesus presented in John’s Gospel that Jesus never did things by half. Neither, did he give just enough, nor 95%, nor even 100%. He didn’t even give the sporting maxim of 110%. No, the Jesus that we see in John’s Gospel is completely over the top. When we look at his miracles, we see that he goes far above and beyond what was expected, to show the miraculous nature of God.

In John 2, we see Jesus at a wedding in Cana. When all the wine has been drunk, Jesus turns some water into wine. Jesus doesn’t just turn a cup, or a small jug of water into wine. Instead, he uses six stone water jars that held somewhere between 75 and 110 Litres of water. He doesn’t just provide enough, he goes completely over the top.

In John 4:46-54, we’re again in Cana, and a royal official comes to Jesus and begs him to go to his house and heal his son, who is at the point of death. But Jesus doesn’t go to him, but says he will be well and at that exact moment, the boy was healed. So different to the healing tradition where you had to go to the person, Jesus goes beyond what was expected, and goes completely over the top.

In John 5, we have the story of the bland man who had been blind for 38 years. And again, Jesus goes over the top by healing a man blind for so long.

In John 6, we have the feeding of the five thousand, where not only were five barley loaves and two fish enough to feed five thousand men, but enough to fill twelve baskets with left overs.

In John 9 – the passage immediately preceeding and joined to the passage we heard today, a man was born blind, but Jesus healed him, the person thought incurable, who would never have had an opportunity in his life, Jesus goes over the top and heals him.

In John 11, Lazarus has been dead for four days – at which point the Jews believed the soul had left the body, and Jesus raises him from the dead. Jesus raises a man thought to be completely and utterly dead, and goes over the top.

These are the miracles that we see in John’s Gospel. And that common theme is there – Jesus doesn’t just to the bare minimum, or even everything that’s expected. Jesus goes completely over the top.

Are you a thief or a sheep?

So, bearing those things in mind, let’s turn our attention to this passage. As I said, this is a continuation of the Miracle of the man born blind, and so it’s important to hear the context in which Jesus is saying these words. Allow me to read from John 9:35-40

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:35-40 (NRSV)

As we come to this continuation of Jesus’ words, we see that he is addressing these words to the Pharisees – although his disciples would be listening as well, and Jesus uses this metaphor of a sheepfold. There are a few characters in this metaphor that I just want to highlight. Now, there is the Shepherd – the one who looks after the sheep. There is also the gatekeeper, the one who protects the sheep and only allows in the right people. Then there’s the thief or bandit, and of course, the sheep. Now, if the Shepherd is Jesus, and the gatekeeper is one of the other members of the Trinity – God or the Holy Spirit, they could both work as protector in this circumstance – then the next obvious question is who are the thieves and who are the sheep.

And perhaps the more pertinent question is who are you – the thief, or the sheep?

The thief is one who doesn’t come through the gate, is one who doesn’t recognise the voice of the Shepherd, and comes only to steal, kill and destroy.

The thief doesn’t enter by the gate, doesn’t recognise the voice of the shepherd, and only comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

The sheep on the other hand are led into the fold for protection, they hear the voice of the shepherd and respond, they follow the Shepherd because they know his voice.

Sheep are led into the fold for protection, hear and respond to the voice of the shepherd, and follow the shepherd since they know his voice.

So are you a thief, or a sheep?

In today’s society, it’s sometimes looked down on as being a sheep – that is, someone who blindly follows the crowd without willing to think about what it is they’re actually saying. You can see this with some who have taken a stance against Vaccinations, or climate change, despite there being a large body of evidence for the causes they are fighting against.
But in this context, being a sheep is a good thing. A sheep is someone who is protected, a sheep is someone who is part of the community, who is welcomed by the shepherd and known by name and loved.

And I think most of us would say we are sheep – or desire to be sheep. We are here because we love Christ, and we want to be part of his flock. But are there times where we sometimes act as thieves? Are there times where we don’t listen to Jesus? Are there times where our actions or words harm those within the flock? Or even harm those outside of the flock?

When we don’t listen to Jesus, we can harm others, and prevent others from coming into the love of Christ.

We can listen to Jesus

So how do we make sure we are a sheep and not a thief? We listen to Jesus.
Let’s look at those miracles again. John 2 – the wedding at Cana. Jesus tells the servants to fill up the jars with water, then to take a cup to the chief steward. If they hadn’t listened to Jesus, the miracle would not have happened.

John 4 – Royal official hears Jesus is in town, and went to speak to him
The man who was ill for 38 years listened to Jesus, and was healed. The man born blind listened to Jesus’ instruction to wash in the pool of Siloam, and was healed. Lazarus listened to the call of Jesus, and rose from the dead.

Again, they all have this common thread – of listening to Jesus.

But the Pharisees – they didn’t listen. In Chapter 9 – as they investigate this miraculous healing, they weren’t willing to listen to the evidence showing Jesus’ miraculous healing. And as the man gains an understanding of what has happened to him, he tells the pharisees,

“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

John 9:30-33 (NRSV)

Yet the Pharisees say to him,

“You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

He points out their hypocrisy, but they aren’t willing to listen. Jesus finds the man and reveals himself, and on hearing his words, the man says “Lord, I believe.”But the pharisees near by still refused to accept his teaching. They weren’t willing to listen.

The Pharisees – by not listening to Jesus, drove a man out of community. Jesus welcomed him into community – the community of Believers.

Listening to Jesus leads to abundant life

When we listen to Jesus, we are lead into an abundant life. Jesus concludes this passage, saying that he came “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Now, it’s important to recognise what abundant life means. An abundant life is not having lots and lots of possessions. It is not having more than others. In fact, we get a picture of what an abundant life means in Acts 2.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)

So this is just after Pentecost, and the believers are living together. And here we get a picture of what abundant life is about. They take care of each other – even selling their possessions and goods if there is a need in the community. They spend time together in the wider community – that is, in the temple – but they also spent time together in private, sharing meals at home with glad and generous hearts. They praised God – and they had the goodwill of all the people. They were thought highly of by the community they were living in. They knew that by listening to Jesus, they would have an abundant life through living in community with each other. We find value in others. We find value in loving others. We find value in seeing others succeed.

The servants, the man born blind, the man ill for 38 years – they all listened to Jesus, and were brought into the fold, where they could have an abundant life. They were on the outside, excluded from community. But Jesus saw them, and welcomed them, and invited them to be part of something more.

Listen to Jesus, and have abundant life

So listen to Jesus. Be a sheep. Find protection as part of his flock. And find abundant life as part of his flock. We do that by living in our community – helping where needed, caring where needed, feeding where needed, loving where needed. Why? Because we love Jesus, and he knows us by name, he calls us and we listen, and we follow.

As we reflect on that message, I invite you to listen to Jesus. To be in a place where you can be enfolded by Christ’s love, and listen to him. Maybe you need to be reassured of God’s protection over you. Maybe you’re being called to live out Christ’s love in community. Maybe you’re being promised an abundant life, if you live in community. Or maybe, you might be hearing Christ for the first time, inviting you to come into his flock, opening the gate for you, and calling you in by name.

As we sing this song, you are invited to come forward and spend some time in prayer, seeking out God, and listening to what Jesus is saying to you. And may we all be enfolded by God’s love, as we lift our hands in sweet surrender to Jesus’ name.

Who do you say that I am? Mary Magdalene

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Mary Magdalene, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Easter Sunday 16 April, 2017. The Reading was John 20:1-18. It was part of a sermon series based on The Skit Guys’ ‘Who do you say I am?‘ series. You can watch the Mary Magdalene video on their webpage.

Women in the Bible

How many women are mentioned by name in the Gospels? Do you know? There are some women who are featured but not named, such as the woman from Samaria in John 4, but there are 14 women who are mentioned by name. Because they are named, they have some importance, either referencing the Old Testament stories, or are evidence of the historical accuracy of the events, as people in the community would know them by name and could confirm the events. Of these 14 named women, three (Rachel, Rahab, and Ruth) are people who appear in the Old Testament, so it is just a reference by name. Of the remaining 11, 5 – Susanna, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza (Lk 8:3), Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Mt 27:56), Salome (Mk 15:40; 16:1) and Mary, the wife of Clopas (Jn 19:25), are mentioned only by name and have no real effect on the story. That leaves us with 6. Anna the Prophetess is found in three verses of Luke 2:36-38, but has no words attributed to her. 5. Mary, and her sister Martha appears in John 11 and Luke 10. 3.   In Luke 1, we read of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and we have the incredible proclamation by Elizabeth about Mary, the mother of Jesus, in verses Lk 1:42-45. It is Elizabeth that we find the first words of dialogue attributed to a woman, in verse 25. That leaves us with 2, and they both go by the name Mary.

These two Mary’s are the only women who are mentioned in all four Gospels. We have Mary, the mother of Jesus; and Mary Magdalene. Given that we know how important Mary, mother of Jesus is to the story, the fact that Mary Magdalene is the only other named woman that rates a mention in all four Gospels tells us that her role is particularly important. So let’s take a look at her story.

In Luke 8, Mary is mentioned as part of a group of women that followed Jesus around with his disciples. It mentioned that she had seven demons in her, of which it’s implied that Jesus cast those demons out. These women are said to have provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their resources – similarly in Mark 15:41 she is mentioned as having followed Jesus around and having provided for him. From this, we can assume that Mary is a woman of some means – in Mark 16:1, we read that it is Mary, the mother of James, Salome, and Mary Magdalene who brought the spices to anoint the body of Jesus. These spices would have been expensive to purchase, so we can assume that she has some wealth behind her, something quite odd for the society of the day.

Mary is mentioned to have been a witness at the crucifixion of Christ. While Mark and Matthew mention her as being part of a group of women watching from a distance, in John she is mentioned as part of a group standing near the cross with Jesus’ mother, Mary. Some commentators say that the women – being often overlooked by the authorities – had a lot more freedom to be able to watch and move about without attracting the attention of the Chief Priests since their testimony would have been inadmissible in court under Jewish law, as opposed to the disciples, who would all have been in hiding by this stage.

And so it’s in this context that we see Mary come to be the central figure. She has appeared throughout the gospel story, is listed as having been a close follower of Jesus, and we see her as one of the first people to come and visit Jesus’ tomb. The reason she was visiting the tomb was to try and anoint Jesus’ body – the Jews believed that the soul of a body doesn’t leave a person until the fourth day – hence why Jesus waited a couple of days before departing when he heard Lazarus was sick, so that the miracle would be doubly miraculous, as he was healed on the fourth day, when the soul was supposed to have left. Mary had hoped to be able to anoint Jesus’ body on the third day so that Jesus’ soul wouldn’t be scared away by the sight and smell of his body – as that was the Jewish belief. Perhaps she had believed some of Jesus’ teachings, but didn’t understand and thought that these things were to happen after Christ’s death, but wouldn’t happen if his soul had been scared away.

Even those with the most faith can come up short

Mary is, perhaps, the person who had the most faith. She believed that Jesus would fulfill the things that he had said. Perhaps she lingered at the cross because she believed that Jesus would find a way to beat crucifixion. Perhaps she followed after his body was taken down in the hope that Jesus wasn’t really dead. And perhaps Mary returned to the tomb in the hope that the soul of Christ would be the one to fulfill his teachings.

And isn’t that so often the case? We can be absolutely assured of our faith in something – but come up short in our understanding. We saw with Peter through his denial of Christ. And again Peter, on his arrival at the tomb, sees the linen wrappings, and no body, but still doesn’t understand. Still doesn’t believe. And Thomas, one of the twelve, after all his  friends had told them what they have seen, still won’t believe until he sees it for himself. These are some of the people we hold up as examples of our faith, but when push comes to shove their belief of what Jesus was capable of was lacking.

And so it is with us. Sometimes we lack the belief of what God is capable of. We say God is capable of all things… but in our hearts we say that God won’t do this, or God won’t do that. Maybe we pray to God for healing, but don’t trust that God will put the things in place to let that healing happen. Maybe we pray to God, asking to bring in new people to our church, but don’t allow God to speak through us in our daily lives.

We need to always believe for more

We need to believe for more. We need to believe that God can and will do more.

Jesus rose from the dead – he did the impossible. And he chose to tell that news to Mary first of all – he didn’t appear to any of the twelve, but to Mary. Perhaps he realised that the men, in their patriarchal society, wouldn’t embrace the role of women in the church as well as he had hoped – so he put it right there. At the scene of his most incredible miracle, it is Mary who is the first witness.

Jesus’ view of the kingdom of God always included those on the margins – the poor, the sick, the women, the outsiders, the Gentiles. Jesus included them when other Jewish teachers were excluding them.

Sometimes, we do the same thing. We want to limit our church. We want to limit who can come in and who cannot. Sure, we may not stick up a sign saying that, but do our actions both in our church and in our community reflect who is welcome?

Sometimes, we limit what we believe others are capable of. Or we limit what we think we’re capable of. We think that we couldn’t talk to someone about our faith, or we couldn’t help out with this or that ministry, or we couldn’t do whatever. Now, sometimes there is a physical limitation – and I understand that. I’m not going to get up here and suggest that Bill should be leading our Mainly Music sessions, for example.

However, we can believe that God will do more through us, and will do more in our community, and do more than we think. This is the God who beat death, after all. We need to believe for more, because God is all powerful, and all welcoming, and all loving.

When we believe for more, we will see incredible things

When we believe for more, we will see incredible things. Mary was an outcast – she had seven demons inside her, and would have been excluded from her community. When Jesus healed her, she joined him and his disciples and followed them around. She saw the incredible things that Jesus did. And at the resurrection, she was chosen to be the one to tell the disciples that Jesus was alive. To be the one to tell the disciples that there was more to the story, that they didn’t have to lose hope. That they were about to be launched into something that would change the world, so far outside of their small Jewish worldview. God had more in store for the disciples than they could have ever imagined.

In the same way, God has more in store for us than we can ever imagine. And God has more in store for you than you can ever imagine.

We can see greater things when we believe for more

Believe for more. Believe for greater things. Believe in the one who rose from the dead. Whether you’re the disciples who are in hiding, or the Peter and John who looked in the tomb but didn’t understand, or whether you’re Mary who faithfully followed, and did what she thought was right – believe for more. Believe in the one who welcomes all, believe in the one who died for all, believe in the one who rose for all. Because when we believe for more, God will use us and show us even more incredible things.

Win this nation back?

There are some worship songs that I really get into. And there are some bands and writers that I especially get into. At the moment, one of the bands that I’m absolutely loving is Rend Collective. They have this funky, Irish-Bluegrass type feel to much of their recordings, and their songs are just great to sing along to.

I’ve used some of their Campfire Christmas versions of Christmas Carols at Christmas time, and their albums are on a high rotation in my iTunes playlists. And one of my favourite songs – and one that seems to be gaining more and more traction particularly within The Salvation Army here in Australia – is Build Your Kingdom Here.

Continue reading “Win this nation back?”

Part of our World

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Part of our World, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 5 March, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 4:1-11.

90/40

Now, it’s Ray’s 90th birthday today, and I know that numbers are often very meaningful in the Bible – sometimes, numbers are chosen not because they were necessarily historically accurate, but because they linked back to some religious meaning. For example, in today’s story we heard that Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. Now the number 40 appears many times in the bible – Noah was in the ark for how long? 40 days and 40 nights. Moses fasted on Mount Sinai while he inscribed the words of God’s covenant for how long? 40 days and 40 nights. Elijah also fasted in the desert before receiving a new commission from God for how long? 40 days and 40 nights. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for how long? Who said 40 days and 40 nights? No, 40 years they wandered in the desert. But there’s more – David reigned for 40 years, and so did Solomon. So we can see that 40 is quite a significant number.

So I thought to search up and see if there was anything special about the number 90. Now, numerologically, it would make sense for it to be there. This is the idea that certain numbers, due to the way they are made up, have added significance. So for 90 – you could argue that it’s very special because it is 3 times 3 (Three is significant because of the Trinity) times 10 (10 commandments). However, I could only find two significant mentions of 90 exactly. One comes in Ezekiel 41:12 – where Ezekiel describes the depth of the third temple as 90 cubits. The second reference comes from Genesis 5:9, where it says that Enosh was ninety years old when he became the father of Kenan. Now, I’m not suggesting anything with that reference, just that it was the only reference to an exact ninety year old that I could find. Continue reading “Part of our World”

There is no I in Church…

As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, There is no I in Church, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 12 February, 2017. The Reading was Matthew 5:21-37.

The Vicar and the Ember

In a small village, somewhere in England, so the story goes, there was a man who had been going to church all his life, and had thought that he had heard every sermon that there was to be preached. So, one day, as his wife got ready for church, he decided that instead he would prefer to sleep in. His wife, though concerned, didn’t think much of it, thinking it was only one week.

The next Sunday came around, and the husband thought to himself – I’ve been reading my bible every day, and saying my prayers, but I really don’t want to go to church today. So, he announced to his wife that he wasn’t going to go to church again, and instead he was going to go fishing. And his wife, again concerned, hoped that it was just that week, and thought nothing of it. Continue reading “There is no I in Church…”